UH professor nominated for White House Honor
TeachHouston alumna and UH physics adjunct professor Mariam Manuel was recently nominated by the White House for the Champions of Change honor.
Her nomination was in the Young Women Empowering Communities category where she was accredited for her tremendous involvement in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics field at Katy I.S.D. and the University of Texas, and the physics field at the University of Houston.
From those nominated, 11 went to the White House. Although Manuel was not one of the 11, she was asked by the White House Champions of Change committee to share her story.
“I’m incredibly humbled and honored,” Manuel said. “I thought of the amazing women nominated in the category, I don’t know if I would’ve nominated myself.”
Manuel said her love for science and technology took root at a young age.
“I knew I loved science at an early age, I always liked discovery,” Manuel said. “I would get random tools, go to park and mix things – nothing groundbreaking but I liked (the) idea of discovering things (and) finding out the why and how.”
When she arrived at UH as a student, Manuel decided to pursue her major in physics.
“I feel like physics encompasses everything,” Manuel said. “Originally, I went in thinking to teach biology because in (my) high school, the physics program wasn’t good. Today, a lot of people would complain about physics being cut and dry when that isn’t how it’s supposed to be taught. I had to teach it to myself (at) UH (while doing so) everything is connected. It clicked. It made sense.”
While studying at UH, Manuel joined the teachHouston program which further cultivated her love for teaching. She said that without this program she wouldn’t have been as prepared to take on the job.
Since her graduation from UH, Manuel has worked in Katy I.S.D. as a physics teacher, working her way up to Instructional Specialist at Katy I.S.D.’s Robert Shaw Center for STEAM. There she works with students across the district in improving and advancing student’s involvement in this area by hosting projects, events and field trips that are not typically done in classrooms in collaboration with universities in the area such as Rice University, UH and UT.
In addition to her work in Katy I.S.D., Manuel earned her master’s in STEM education at UT during the summer and became involved with their UTeach program — a program that teaches STEM educators nationwide. It was through this program that she was notified she was nominated for the White House Champions of Change honor.
Manuel took every opportunity to improve herself as an educator which she later spread to her home campuses in Katy and UH.
“I learned as a community,” Manuel said. “It was a long road of wanting to be a good teacher and getting better in my craft. I always asked myself ‘how can I be better in my craft?’”
Manuel collaborated with professors at UH in May 2014, to create the AP Physics 1 Massive Open Online Course designed to prepare nearly 5,000 students from 110 countries for the AP exam. Manuel began teaching Physics 4397 at UH in the fall.
Throughout her advancement in both her education and profession, Manuel had stops along the way.
“You have to do what you have to do until you can do what you want to do,” Manuel said. “There were moments where I made sacrifices like moving to Austin but still doing things in my district, (not having) a summer off (and commuting) back and forth. But that’s okay. I knew I wanted to get better in my craft. There are moments where I’m tired and have to refocus and ask why I am doing this. Fortunately, I can answer that question.”
Manuel said she believes in the journey for any individual wanting to pursue a career that is challenging or is deemed difficult.
“The times I’ve grown the most were through uncomfortable moments where I was pushed the most,” Manuel said. “Try things you’re scared of doing — that’s where you grow (and) where you find out how much you can do. Then it’s onto the next thing.”